Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Relief from the Heat

Early this morning we had a thunder storm roll through and we finally got an inch of much needed rain and...and...a cold front has moved through and humidity is low, temps are going down over the next couple days and in fact it will only be about 68 on Friday. We have had such a great Spring that its hard to even complain about the drought but the rain was really needed.

We had a nice relaxing Memorial Day and I was gratified to see so many people attend to the various cemetaries around here and honor our war veterans. Some news punditrs may not understand the meaning of this day but we do and so do most of the folks around here.

I was wandering around our place today and it was so peaceful and I took a few pictures to share. Life can be so chaotic at times and we used to be on the same treadmill most folks are....but I can tell you that checking out from most of society is really really satisfying for us. We are busy, go to bed tired, and we are never bored....not much more you could ask from life.

Caulking and painting done, now working on the doors.

Our Memorial Day BBQ consisted of a couple of New York Strip steaks, baked potatoes on the grill, and grilled corn on the cob from last years harvest. The extra grilled corn we dont eat will be made into a corn and tomato salad for another day.
It took two years but we finally mastered growing leeks which we use a lot to cook with. This beauty went into a summer mushroom soup. I have been asked about the Got Tiger? shirt before and I am betting most people who served in the Army know what it is. Tiger is a beer in Korea and is one of my favorites...as a matter of fact I love Korean cuisine, culture, and attitude. We are going to take a vacation to Korea in the future.

Its 29 May and the Crysanthemums are starting to bloom.....I dont know about anyone else but we are about a month ahead of normal.
These are Lillies just like you get at Easter...Judy planted them and I was skeptical but they are thriving. The greenery in the background is Wisteria and was planted as a single twig two years ago when we moved here...must be the magical Ozark climate.

This grape vine is a volunteer probably dropped by a bird. We have carefully cultivated and nurtured the gifts that we have been given on this farm and it almost feels like desecration to cut down some of these things so we mostly let them have free reign. This one actually works pretty good.
On our road trip to Missouri to look for a farm in 2009 we noticed all of the Black Eyed Susans which is one of my favorite flowers and Judy planted these for me. I mean look at them...there is just something about their symetry that pleases.
We also really like Hydrangeas and these are just a couple that are now blooming. We have planted and continue to plant more around the farm and I doubt we could ever have enough. They are not only nice to look at as a flower they make a nice shrub and you can experiment with the colour by adding amendments to the soil.

We try to plant in harmony with our local flora and fauna and we specifically plant to deter pests and attract beneficial insects and animals. This specimine is a butterfly perching on one of our...butterfly bushes. Missouri is blessed with an abundance of butterflys and we are slowly expanding our butterfly garden. If you take the time to truly look at the world around you you could never in a million years be bored...I believe I could spend a lifetime just studying butterflys. 
This is Sal the rooster and my how he has grown. He and Carmine serenade us each morning at about 0600 with a series of cock a doodle dos that sound like something out of a grade B movie. I have never had chickens or a rooster (though Holly and Judy have) before but I remember as a kid watching Lassie (the one with June Lockhart where they lived on a farm) and Mayberry RFD and sometimes hearing the rooster in the background and wishing I had that life.

Our onions are going great again this year. These are candy whites and they are getting huge; next year we are going to plant enough to fill an entire garden plot so we can sell them. 

This was taken this evening..it was about 72, a light breeze, low humidity and so quiet. The chickens were making the low key satisfied sounds that those who raise chickens would recognize, there was an ocasional sound of a bee...a cow bellowing in the distance..peaceful.
Judy planted Nasturtiums in the old planter and they are doing well in the shade of the Persimon trees.
I had someone a while back make a remark that we paint things all rosey but real life isnt all peace and happiness...they really sounded bitter. I feel sorry for that person. Of course life isnt all rosey all the time but its how you face adversity and deal with the travails we all face that dictates your perception. All of us on the farm have medical issues and chronic pain, we have worries about finances and the future, and with as many kids as we have someone is bound to be in crisis at least once per month..welcome to life. This is an actuator for the electric deck lift on our expensive and just 2 year old garden tractor. This is the second time its broken and we have had to replace it at $119 a pop and the access to get the broken one out and the new one in is limited to stick figure people as my large arms dont quite fit. So I take the tractor apart piece by piece until I can get to it, I cuss a bit, and I bemoan the moron who designed such a mechanism. Seriously, this is a bad design all way round. The gears are plastic and the housing (including the bracket surrounding the worm gear that raises the deck) is made of Delrin. Please introduce me to the engineer who signed off on this design so I can $%#$*$#&*(&^   his   )_*)(&&*%^$  with a @#!^#@.

So we found a drive belt for the Husqvarna we are working on in a local town (60 mile round trip) and a gas tank but the gas tank wont arive until tomorrow...rats. But in taking off the mower deck (you have to to replace the drive belt) I found this. This is a tensioner pulley that normally has a bearing race in the center and its fried..note the bearing race is actually GONE! So we have to go back to town for a new pulley but since we needed to go back to get the gas tank anyway its a wash. Heavy sigh.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

This is a day we honor those who fell in battle and those veterans who have passed on. I have had the honor of knowing and serving with many who gave the ultimate sacrifice and as we enjoy our holiday know that our barbeques, family time, going to the beach, visiting National Parks and all the other activities that occur on Memorial Day is exactly what gives their sacrifice meaning.

Honor them by doing the things that have come to define us as Americans; somehow I am thinking that is all any of them would ask for.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

And Another New Project!

Before I get to the newest project I want to put in a plug for the novel "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson. I am not a movie guy and havent seen the movie but number 3 son Matt gave me the book for Christmas and I am 2/3s finished with it and have really enjoyed it. It takes place in Sweden so some of the references are a little obscure but it really sucks you in. There are some graphic parts though that may offend some people so be aware.

Ever since we started planning for our retirement and decided to purchase a small farm/homestead we have made lists of things we needed, things we wanted, and things we just positively didnt want. This helped us plan and save money for things and as we liquidated our old life we put that money toward the new life;...sold the fishing boat...money went towards the new tractor; sold the Harley...money went towards the 4 wheeler and garden tractor...etc. One of the things we had always planned for was a trailer made out of an old pickup bed that we could use around the farm to be towed behind either a truck or a tractor for hauling stuff or even red neck hay rides.

I remember winters in Alaska where we would peruse Craigs List from places we were considering moving to and looking in the Farm and Garden section and seeing things that we thought we would like to have. And always we found many old pickup bed trailers on sale for a couple hundred that would fit our needs. It wasnt a high priority until recently when several times I could have used one...yes we have the equipment trailer but its too big for a lot of the things we need and it looks funny being hitched to the IH. All of the sudden, probably due to the high price of scrap metal, these things got scarce and expensive. One trailer we looked at the guy wanted $650 because he said the bed came from a 1965 Chevy pickup and was a classic....ahhh yea. But last week I was on the Homesteading Today forum and the topic came up and one of the members turns out had one for sale and lives just 70 miles from our farm sooo...road trip!

We drove down, met with the owner and it was exactly what we had been looking for. Its even in the International Harvester colour scheme that will match our tractor.
This thing has a good step bumper and the bed isnt all rusted out like most of the ones we have looked at.
Its lights are wired for towing and it has safety chains but we dont intend to take this off the farm.

One of the things we are pleased with is that it has an extended tongue so it will work fine with the tractor. All in all we are very happy with the trailer, the price we paid, and we enjoyed meeting the seller. Thanks furholler.
Despite the heat and lack of rain our gardens are doing well; Boo Boo is being needy lately and hangs out with Holly wherever she goes.

Corn is up...

Tomatoes are doing great...

And we have a bountiful harvest of radishes, lettuce, leeks, and starting just recently cucumbers and soon onions.

Tomorrow is the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600...life is good.

It Seemed Like a Simple Project

We have had extremely hot and dry weather around here and we have been very busy but the other day we were at the lumber store in the big city (pop 6K) and I decided to pick up a couple pressure treated 1x6s to repair the end wall of the stone garage. The garage had been built in the late 1930s and the back end wall above the stone work looked like they had decided to use board and batton without the battons. The old oak planking was extremely weathered and warped and it wasnt weather tight at all.

We came back to the farm and I tore off the first couple boards I was going to replace and I realized the entire endwall needed to be reframed and rebuilt. None of this is really structural as this building style (unique to the Ozarks I believe) used green oak slats laminated together and bent to form a rounded roof that was anchored to the stone walls and covered in barn tin. Simple and effective and the oak even after 70 some years is like concrete. When the green slats dried it formed a pretty sturdy structure even though it tended to warp a bit and looks wavy. The endwall is above the back stone wall and encloses the rounded opening formed by the roof so its not a big area but it just looked bad and needed to be fixed.

Demolition of a 75 year old structure is interesting as you find all kinds of interesting bits and pieces but we took off the old boards and reframed it and started laying in new pressure treated boards. And of course since we hadnt started off thinking the whole thing needed to be redone we had to make a trip back to town to buy more lumber.....a 60 mile round trip.

Its hard to describe the framing that was done and this picture isnt much help but I basically just replaced what had been there before with pressure treated...I figured the old structure had held up 78 years so it obviously worked. Note the gap in the boards, when doing board and batton its important to leave a 1/4 to 1/2 inch gap between boards to allow for expansion and contraction of the wood; if you dont you will have warping, splitting and it will look bad.

Some of the old wood was dry rotted but most of it was just so weathered and brittle it couldnt be re-fastened. The card board in this picture was the previous owners efforts to keep out the weather and it was placed on the back of the boards inside the garage....I guess it worked to a certain extent but....

The battons are 1"x2"s and its important not to nail them on both sides...i.e., ideally you nail them to nailers or backer boards and the nails go in the slots and not into the boards them selves and lacking that you nail the battons to only one board and the other side of the battone covers the gap but floats on the other side, again if you fail to do this you will end up with split and warped wood. The biggest thing I hate with board and batton is that its tedious to do on a radiused curved roof line like this because every single board and every single batton is a different length. Now I need to caulk it and paint it; the doors are actually in pretty good shape and they work properly so I am hesitant to replace them. I may just do some cosmetic repair and then paint them. The gap in the barn tin at the roof peak was where a Ham radio antenna was afixed about 30 years ago; that will be repaired but may end up getting redone since we are looking at a HAM radio license ourselves. Now that you dont have to know morse code I am all for it...just couldnt master the hand keys.

Was it hot you may ask? Why yes it was...I dont know why but I always seem to get into these things when the weather says I should re-think. We have had great mild weather this spring but no rain here since April 1st and things are dry as a piece of 3 day old toast. On top of that we have had a week or more of record heat that wont let up until next week.

So there it is. We breifly toyed with the idea of  adding roof trusses to make a peaked roof on the old stone garage but we like the uniqueness of the old rounded roof and it is in great shape. The board and battons will be painted the same green colour as the siding to the right in this picture while the big doors will be painted the dark green trim colour.

We do a lot of repair of small engines and equipment for folks on the side (you small farmers and homesteaders know how it is..ya make money where you can in many ways) and on top of everything else we have had a steady stream of folks needing things fixed this past week. Not many people have any money around here so you dont make much or get things in barter but thats okay by us. The lawn mower here would start but die..spark was good, air filter dirty but not that dirty...turns out the primer bulb was dry rotted and had a hole in it. $4.69 later I pried the old primer bulb out, used an old thin screw driver to pop out the clip, installed the new primer bulb and clip and seated it with a socket of the right size and a hammer. Works great now. The weed whacker was just a victim of the blended gas available now days and was gummed up..cleaned out the varnish and gunk and it runs good...two down.

Then a guy showed up on our doorstep at about 0730 and stated this mowers engine was running great (I had just tuned it up a couple weeks ago) but that when he was mowing it just stopped going forward or backward. But the engine was still running?...yes, Did you smell burning rubber? ...yes; so I guessed (correctly it turns out) it threw a drive belt. It also has one of those two piece plastic gas tanks that is leaking along the seam so I will replace that while I am at it. Those plastic two piece gas tanks are prone to leak and is a serious design flaw in my opinion as it can cause a fire. And yes I have tried plastic welding the tanks and every other thing you can think of but the only thing I have found that really works in the long run is to spend the $20 bucks or so and replace it.
And I am ending this post with this picture of us getting ready to go to a Preakness party. We have a round robin group of parties for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes at various peoples homes where several couples get together for some good food and drink and to bet and watch the race. Holly had the third place horse for the second time in a row (she got third in the Kentucky Derby as well) so she is doing well. But what struck me funny in this picture is that yet again the picture snaps and I am frowning...not two seconds prior to this we were all laughing and I was in a great mood and honestly thought I was smiling when the picture was taken! For those of you in the frozen north..yes those are tans. We work outside every day and dont purposely tan but it happens. However, for me the downside to a tan is that my liver spots really start getting noticeable which must be a genetic thing because Holly doesnt have them. So for that and my grey hair that started popping up in my 20s.....thanks Mom and Dad.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chris gets a New Truck

After 2 months of driving over the road after his truck driving school Chris got to come home for a couple days of rest. He has passed all of the testing and OJT and is now on his own with his own truck and will leave again on monday for who knows how long. Great life for a single young guy, he gets to earn good money and full benefits, see the country, and best of all (for me anywhay if I were a trucker) he coan be on his own a lot.

As you can see from the pictures below the truck is a T2000 Kenworth and it dwarfs Judy's mobile home.

This is a 2008 T2000 Kenworth with about 500K miles so its pretty new and just getting broken in. I have been impressed by this company so far (SWIFT) for their comitment to their drivers, their focus on safety, and the quality of their equipment. Chris has full benefits, makes good money for around here and long haul trucking is one of the few real opportunities in many of these rural areas.

As you can see these tractors are enormous. It stands 13 feet tall and looms over the roof line of Judy's place.

I admit that this post is not only an acknowledgement of Chris' achievement but also an indulgence for those of us who are gear heads and like machinery. Power is via a 475hp Cummins N-14 Red Top and its obvious this tractor has been maintained well (note the brand new steering shaft).

The command post sports an air ride seat, telescoping steering wheel, Qualcom communications module and an 8 speed transmission that I think is an Allison.
The sleeper cab has a large bunk lower and a smaller one on top that can be folded up but Chris uses it for storage. I has built in lockers and drawers all over the place, built in stereo speakers and..

On the other side the opening above in this picture will be for a built in flat screen TV and the opening below is for his refrigerator both of which he still needs to buy. There are also two windows and an opening air vent on each side of the sleeper cab so its quite comfortable.

They certainly have changed since the days of when I was in HS and worked at a stockyard and helped transport cattle. We had an old Peterbuilt with a sleeper cab that was basically just a mattress in back and what I remember most about it was that it smelled of sweat and cow manure. Its also pretty aero-dynamic and Chris says he is getting about 8mpg which isnt too bad.

The pintle hitches havent changed much but its a stout rig and I wouldnt mind having an older one to mess around with....maybe for my birthday.

Holly likes driving the trucks and machinery but she spends most of her time on the 4 wheeler or her old Sears Suburban garden tractor. She has such an enjoyment for simple things and she is always happy. In the 20 years I have known her I have only seen her down a couple times and that was for a short time...I know how lucky I am to have found such a partner. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Laid Back Spring

I dont know how its been in the rest of the country but this has been a very mild and great spring in the Ozarks. Cool nights, warm days, no big storms, just very relaxing and good weather. Still, we sure could use some rain as we are in the second year of a moderate drought. This weather though has given us lots of "get things done" time and we are usually pretty tired at the end of the day...a good tired.

Its also the season of political silliness and this being a presidential election year we are experiencing our fair share of goofy ads, misleading promises, and frankly insulting and clueless rhetoric from both sides of the aisle. Missouri is a mix of extreme liberal in the population dense Kansas City and St Louis corridors and extreme conservative in the rest of the state which is sparsely populated and very rural. So we get some interesting politics.....boy will it be nice when this election season is over.

In the last week we had a couple bush hogging jobs, we have been working fund raisers with the Lions Club, planted, and helped with the installation of water, sewer and electrical lines for a Fire Department training building.

But to illustrate why our blood pressure is so low here are two situations experienced in the last two days. Yesterday, Holly was planting mellons, squash, etc. in one of the gardens while I mowed and when I finished mowing for the day I took an Adirondak chair under some trees where she was working to watch. It was sunny and about 79 but I was in the shade and the wind was light but cooling. Holly and I keep an easy company with each other and we love to talk and laugh together but we also can enjoy each others company without conversing and this was one of those days. Pretty soon I could smell the Honeysuckle and the wild roses and Bandit layed across my feet and fell asleep...I was warm but comforted by the breeze and soon I could hear various birds singing and insects buzzing by and....GONE. Fell asleep myself. I waked to an overall feeling of satisfaction and relaxation.

Then today, we worked all day and in early afternoon I was tired and hot and sweaty and after a sandwhich I sat in my easy chair in the family room to sit for a moment before going back outside. I had a Solo cup full of ice water at my side and turned to the PBS Create channel where Burt Wolf had some travel show on Switzerland (someplace Holly and I are travelling to in the future) and I started to relax. The sunlight was filtered and dappled coming through the French Door and blinds and the AC was keeping it comfortable, and it was so quiet........again...GONE. 2 hours later I waked in time to feed the cattle, do some poison ivy control and play a few games of yard darts before dinner. Tonight as I write this I feel relaxed, refreshed, and content.

You know, when we were contemplating buying a small farm as our retirement plan one of the things we always thought was just part of the whole experience was a red tractor. I used to have a metal one like this when I was a small boy that was part of a farm set many my age will remember. Remember the tin barn, the plastic corral, plastic rows of corn, a rooster, couple of cows etc.? Well as crazy as it sounds this International Harvester 424 fills a void for me and I am thoroughly enjoying having it. I brush hogged 7 acres of the neighbors and used the old John Deere rotary mower seen here. If you dont currently have a tractor, or have never heard an older one under load then you are really missing something. The sound is very pleasing.

I still need to sand blast this and paint it but its been properly lubed, the gear box oil changed, and a couple zerks replaced and it worked better than I could have expected.  
In the fore ground are our tomato plants, in the back ground the corn. The hay bales to the right will be our potato experiment and the peas will climb the cattle panels.

Onions, lettuce and radishes.
Beets and more lettuce..

Second year cherry trees are enjoying the mild spring..

The bananas took a pounding with the late frost but have come back and we expect they will be 15 foot tall this year.
The colour of the house has really grown on us and we like it. It looks so clean.

And I am sure the radish references are getting old but I cant stress enough how easy they are to grow and how much enjoyment you can get out of them. Even if you live on a sail boat (we have) you could have a small pot of radishes and they really spice up a salad. Look at the size of that one on the left...it was not mealy or of bad flavour....just crisp, spicy hot, and tasty!

 If you are living really rural like we are you do for yourself or perish. Both of us are heavily involved in the Volunteer Fire department and I must admit I never could have fathomed how much effort goes into making a rural volunteer department successful. All of us contribute something to the mix and we do our own maintenance, we write grants, we file taxes, and in this case, we dig our own sewer, electrical, and water lines. Rural folks know how to do things out of necessity and I admit I learn everytime I help out.

Luckily we had access to a track loader and we all have tracotrs with buckets and lots of tools so in 8 hours we had everything laid. Right behind where this picture was taken will be an old double wide class room we got from a school in Springfield that was closed down...it will be a training area and much needed office space for us. This is our hometown now and its satisfying being part of things like this.